Notes on "Cry Baby Cry" (CBC)
KEY G Major/e minor
------- 4x -----
FORM Refrain -> Verse -> Refrain -> Refrain -> Outro w/complete ending
GENERAL POINTS OF INTEREST
Style and Form
- In a world where the archetypal lyrics for a lullaby are "hush little baby, don't you cry," John's title phrase here combined with "she's old enough to know better" conjures up some kind of perverse Anti Lullaby.
- The fancifully surreal nursery rhyme verses are striking themselves, with their alternating King/Queens and Duchess/Duke. When the pattern is broken in the final verse you wonder if he's avoiding foolish consistency, or like Paul in "What You're Doing", he just ran out of options. But in any event, it's the unexplained and ambiguous, just-this-side-of-nasty needling of the refrain that fascinates you in spite of yourself. Is John singing the song about about "mother" in 3rd person, or is he singing in the first person, in which case the offending line should be taken as self-mocking?
- We have a standard folksong form with an introductory refrain. The procedings are enlivened by the the prevalent number of elisions between sections. Imagine how flat and four-square it would sound without them.
Melody and Harmony
- The tune is primarily pentatonic (G,A,B,D,E) with a touch of the blue 3rd in the little instrumental interlude that punctuates the verses.
- The song maintains a vascillating ambiguity as regards home key between G Major and its relative minor key of e. On the one hand, it's an effect very similar to what we saw in the previous "Savoy Truffle", but if you compare them side by side you'll be astonished just how differently two individuals can solve the same puzzle at the detailed level.
- John's simple acoustic strumming is at the heart of the backing track, though drums, bass, piano, organ, accordian (?) and lead guitar all get in the act before its over.
- Generally speaking, the texture is thickened and the mood intensified during the first half of the song and backs off slightly during the second half. Trace it on your own; you're old enough to do so :-)
- The arrangement contains two examples of word painting of an obvious sort you don't often find in the Beatles: the piano playing Queen and the politely tittering Duchess.
- The refrain is eight measures long with two loosely parallel phrases of equal length:
|G |a |F |G |
G: I ii flat-VII I I
|e |A |F |G |
vi V-of-V flat-VII I
- The home key is established by the modal flat-VII cadence; there's not V chord to be found in the entire song.
- Not only does flat-VII create an implied cross relation with the F# of the key signature, but the use of an A Major chord in the second phrase creates an explicit cross relation (C#/C natural) with the flat-VII that follows it.
- The introductory refrain ends on an e minor chord, and elides with the start of the first verse.
- The verse is 12 measures long and consists of the same 6 measure phrase repeated twice:
--------------------- 2X -----------------------
chords |e |- |- |- |Cb7 |G |
bassline |E |Eb |D |Db |C |G |
vi IV I
- It might be more accurate to call it a 4 measure phrase followed each time by a dramatic two measure flourish in the accompaniment. The latter effect exudes Anti Lullaby values that are at least as strong the ones to be found in the lyrics of the refrain.
- Yet another cross relation is created by the blue Bb of the C7 chord with the B natural of the G chord that follows.
- In every case, the 12th measure of the verse elides with the first measure of the following refrain.
- The chromatically descending bassline in the first four measures of this section is a worthy object lesson where Roman numerals for the resulting chords are NOT appropriate. Yes, we have (in sequence): e minor, Eb augmented, G major in 6/4 position, and a half-diminished 7th chord on D flat but the four chords make no harmonically significant "progression." If the e minor chord moved to C Major in the course of a single measure where the desceending bassline unfolded more quickly, you'd never dream of talking chord changes here. What makes it a special suspenseful effect in this case is the time scale; the extent to which each chord is prolonged for a complete measure.
- The outro contains a classic three-times-you're-out repeat of the refrain section.
- The elision technique is further exploited by having the end of the first two repeats overlap with the first measure of the second and third ones.
- Enigmatically, of course, the song ends on an e minor chord, instead of G Major which has otherwise dominated the song. It sounds to my ears, too, like John leaves the tune hanging with an unsual 4th ('A') suspended over the final chord.
SOME FINAL THOUGHTS
- As usual, there's what to learn from a check of the outtake and demo versions in spite of the similarity of both of them to the official version.
- The outtake on A3 handles the introductory refrain differently, with a couple measures of guitar vamping, and John singing only 50% of the lyrics rather than the 75% you're used to. The musical text is otherwise identical, and the arrangement is slightly plainer in a way that makes you appreciate all the more so the value added by the small details.
- The demo omits the intro and starts right off with the first verse; an uncanny parallel with the home demos and earliest studio take of "Strawberry Fields Forever". For the outro, John attempts to shift to a 3/4 waltz beat for the last couple refrains. It's an effect realized with only partial success in this performance but intruiging nevertheless in terms of intimations about what might have been.
"Sometimes I think he enjoys seeing me suffer." 072098#154
Copyright (c) 1998 by Alan W. Pollack
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